Curtain Up

July 19, 2007
It makes us cringe. It’s hard to swallow. And yet we need it to grow. I’m not talking about vitamin pills. I’m talking about criticism.
From the earliest days of our training, we constantly get criticized—about our feet, our head placement, our port de bras, our shoulders, our turnout, our hair, and endlessly on and on. We receive stinging words (and hopefully some praising words too) in class, then in the rehearsal studio, then in reviews. No one escapes it. Even the best and most famous are subjected to it. Anyone who can’t take it, bails. In other professions, you get civilized, confidential annual evaluations. But as a performing artist, you are out there onstage for any commentator to take a verbal whack at. As dancers we develop thick skin. Or do we?
Recognizing that criticism is like a little bird—or hawk—on the shoulder throughout a dancer’s life—and that people might be more affected by it than they let on—we offer “Coping With Criticism,” a four-part care package. The first is Joseph Carman’s feature polling dancers and choreographers who have come under heavy fire on how they’ve made peace with it. The second is a first-person story from Rosalynde Leblanc, possibly the only dancer who has performed with both Bill T. Jones and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Leblanc got sucked into a vortex of self-criticism that almost consumed her, but she lived to tell about it (i.e. she’s still dancing). In addition DM talked to directors of major dance conservatories who are part of a trend toward a more nurturing approach. And lastly, we give you helpful hints on how to bounce back from criticism at any level.
This month we celebrate 50 years of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which means 50 years of Taylor’s cheerfully sinister (or darkly cheerful) dances and 50 years of challenging dancers to their limits. I spent a fascinating afternoon talking with leading Taylor dancers of different generations and have distilled the conversation for these pages. Senior Editor Allan Ulrich points out—with gusto—that our cover subject Lisa Viola fits into a long line of Taylor women who can dance up a storm. We have a resource sidebar that tells you how to learn more about this terrifically popular company. And in “Attitudes,” Clive Barnes places Taylor in the pantheon of American dance giants.
Spring is waiting in the wings, and I encourage you to dance your own private ode to spring. Or, you can waltz through our pages instead. Just don’t let it make you too self-critical!